Category Archives: Review

Review: Magnificent SEVEN

Time flies and you’ll have fun as Circle Theatre jumps into British panto with Seven in One Blow.

by David Novinski for Theater Jones

About the time when the desire to travel great distances to see your family is being replaced by a stronger desire to get away from them, you really start to appreciate the concept of “family friendly” entertainment. One well-placed excursion can make or break a visit with those the in-laws.

When the time comes to get everyone out of the house during this holiday season, consider Circle Theatre’s Seven in One Blow or the Brave Little Kid by Randy Sharp and Axis Company as the destination for your vacation from vacation.

It’s a British panto, a theatrical tradition that combines the free-wheelin’ festival feel of vaudeville with the charming familiarity of folk tales. There’s song and dance, audience interaction, lessons for the kids and laughs for the adults. Director Robin Armstrong keeps the action brisk and lively letting her cast playfully gambol through.

Seven in One Blow‘s a retelling of the folktale about a tailor who, upon killing seven flies in one smack, makes a belt proclaiming as much. Only, he leaves out the word “flies.” Naturally this is before strict legislation concerning truth in advertising. So, people assume he means that he has killed seven men in one blow. You can imagine the adventures that result.

In Circle’s version, this tale is retold by a homeless man, Mack, (Shane Strawbridge) to his friend, Frankie (Eric Dobbins). In Mack’s version, the tailor is a latchkey youth referred to as “The Kid” (Mikaela Krantz). Upset that his parents are so often away from home, he leaves his lonely apartment for parts unknown. On designer Clare Floyd DeVries’ city street set passersby are transformed into folk tale characters. An irate businessman becomes an Ogre (Jim Johnson) who The Kid befriends after besting him in a test of squeezing water from a stone and rock throwing by substituting cheese for a rock and a bird for the stone.

Accompanied by the Ogre and his former captive, The Scarlet Pimpernel (Brad Stephens), The Kid travels to a kingdom with tax revenue issues: scared citizens don’t pay up. The ruler, QK (Kevin Scott Keating) who is a King with a hand puppet Queen needs the money to buy their daughter, Princess Fartina (Hannah McKinney) everything she wants. In exchange for her hand in marriage and half the kingdom, The Kid promises to free a witch’s captive, conquer a beast and “do something about the heat.”

The witch (Sherry Hopkins) is keeping December (Michael James) hostage. Her weakness is a fear of music. With the audience’s help the witch is scared away freeing December. The monster turns out to be a Pea (Amy Elizabeth Jones) who is just frustrated that nobody likes her. When The Kid returns to the kingdom, QK plans to welch on the deal but Princess Fartina stands up to him. The Kid is only interested in the kingdom half if it means his parents don’t have to work so much and be gone all the time.

The cast all shine in one moment or other but the evening on the whole belongs to Shane Strawbridge who serves as the storytelling, song-writing, ringmaster. He performs Mack like a Nathan Lane version of Riff from West Side Story. He’s streetwise but knows how to deliver a laugh line. Mikaela Krantz’s The Kid begins a bit like a tipsy Sandy Duncan but will win you over quickly with her beguiling earnestness. She and Jim Johnson as the Ogre have the most fun with the stilted storybook language that obscures the violence of the tale from the younger audience members. A special mention goes to the whole cast for their finale step dance. But most impressive was Sherry Hopkins who did it in an evening gown without missing a step, slap or stomp.

In order to thoroughly market test the show, I took two of my sons, six and nine. They enjoyed the entire evening, including the snacks at intermission. The nine year old declared it “good,” which is high praise from him. The six year old continues to revise his choice of favorite part. These reactions indicate that Seven in One Blow has the kid entertainment potential of Puss in Boots.

But what really tips the scales in favor of Circle Theatre is its parent entertainment potential. For laughs alone, Boots can’t hold a candle to Blow. The story is for the kids; the jokes are for the parents. And that’s what’s important. After all, who’s paying for the tickets?

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit

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Review: SEVEN at Circle

Circle Theatre’s current production is a holiday farce high on absurdity.

by Jimmy Fowler for Fort Worth Weekly

One of my favorite theatergoing experiences in recent years was Circle Theatre’s 2008 holiday production of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. If you missed that nontraditional and rather biting musical, it featured a cast of children reenacting the story of L. Ron Hubbard’s founding the Church of Scientology as if it were a warm-hearted Christmas show. I’m still not sure how Circle executive director Rose Pearson got approval from the board for that one, which left some audience members cheering and others clapping politely but suspiciously, perhaps fearing they’d been duped. But that show remains my gold standard for artistic bravery during a holiday season when many theaters rely on familiar, comforting cash cows to help fund the rest of their seasons. Audiences are assaulted by so many nutcrackers, Scrooges, and workshop elves during this time of year that any fare that’s significantly different feels like a thrilling daredevil display.

The cast of Circle’s Seven in One Blow is more than game for some adventuresome, nontraditional holiday fare.

Circle’s newest holiday high-wire act is the regional premiere of Seven in One Blow, or The Brave Little Kid. This contemporary urban retelling of a Brothers Grimm story was adapted by New York playwright Randy Sharp and first staged in 2002 by the Off-Broadway troupe the Axis Company. It has since become Axis’ own warped little Christmas tradition, revived each December. Circle handed this interactive show to its unofficial resident director of farce, Robin Armstrong, and the results are just as glorious as I’d hoped. While Seven in One Blow is sweeter and more commercial than Children’s Scientology Pageant, Armstrong –– a self-professed Monty Python fan –– has brought out compelling hues of Terry Gilliam-esque grotesquerie and absurdity that give this show a nice edge. Circle’s staging achieves the impressive feat of appealing to “children of all ages” as well as tired, leather-hearted critics looking for a new reason to cheer holiday theater.

The protagonist of the original Brothers Grimm tale was a mild-mannered tailor who undergoes a series of challenges with monsters and tyrants to become a king. In Sharp’s stage adaptation, the lead character is The Kid (played in the Circle show by Mikaela Krantz), who wanders away from neglectful parents and must overcome various obstacles on the city streets. The title Seven in One Blow refers to The Kid’s recurrent boast that he killed seven bothersome flies with one swat –– he even gets the phrase emblazoned on a huge belt buckle. Full of foolish bravery, he tangles with the eyepatch-wearing Ogre (Jim Johnson, a towering and goofy presence); a king named QK (Kevin Scott Keating), whose queen is a screechy blonde puppet in a black sequined dress; and QK’s greedy, superficial daughter, Princess Fartina (a delightfully vulgar Hannah McKinney). The Kid also encounters the green Pea with self-esteem issues (Amy Elizabeth Jones, who brings surprising tenderness to a despised dinner staple) and the Witch (an icy and disdainful Sherry Hopkins), who has kidnapped the month of December (the aristocratic Michael James) –– she holds him on a glittery leash to keep the land forever cold. The Kid’s sidekick is the dandy-ish, French phrase-dropping Scarlet Pimpernel (Brad Stephens). Through all of this, the audience is encouraged to sing, boo, and cheer by two wisecracking homeless men (Shane Strawbridge and Eric Dobbins, both boisterous and inventive) who serve as the show’s masters of ceremonies.

Set designer Clare Floyd DeVries and costume designer Armstrong have apparently borrowed ideas from sources as diverse as Sesame Street and The Who’s Tommy. The look of Circle’s show veers from utilitarian ghetto chic to Bob Mackie fabulous. Similarly, the performances are comically gritty and elegantly subversive, achieving a lunatic pitch that allows each actor to carve a memorable character from what could have been a hallucinatory mishmash of random Alice in Wonderland-style types. Saturday’s opening-night performance (which was attended by playwright Sharp and several members of the Axis Company) had a couple of problems with pacing as the show alternated between songs and comic vignettes, but those will likely be worked out as the run goes along. All of the performers had inspired command of their roles, but a special nod should go to Keating for making his shrewish queen puppet an authentic and bizarre cast member.

Krantz tied Seven in One Blow together with a marvelous turn as The Kid. Though she’s in her mid-20s, she could easily pass for 14, and she infused her character with the unsentimental tomboy charm of child actors like Tatum O’Neal and Jodie Foster. The gender-bending twist at the end of the show wasn’t much of a surprise, but by that point Krantz had successfully created a universal child hero who drew a bit from both genders. Circle’s Seven in One Blow pulls from a crazy menagerie of inspirations but, beyond all odds, finally comes together as a bold and sophisticated holiday adventure.

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit

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SOUND OF MUSIC: The Column Review


Reviewed by Carol Anne Gordon, Associate Theatre Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN


“Rorschach! Get me a complete file on everyone who’s seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC more than four times!” – William Shatner, AIRPLANE II, THE SEQUEL.

Um, I resemble that remark. Four times? More like four hundred times. Easily.

Growing up, my parents had the original Broadway cast album of this show,featuring Mary Martin, who was too old (46!), too alto (in her duet with Theodore Bikel, they sounded like two male tenors), and too vibrato-y to play Maria, but we still played that album until it wore out, and sang the whole score on long road trips to Louisiana during the holidays. My mother had seen the actual Trapp Family Singers in concert when she was young, and my father had read the real Maria’s book.

So now you know, if you hadn’t guessed it before, that I come naturally – byboth nature and nurture – to my musical theatre geekiness.

When the show came to the Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park Music Hall in the early 1960’s, we couldn’t wait to get our usual seats in the top row of the third balcony in nosebleed Heaven. Initially, though, I was disappointed: the curtain rose, and we saw Maria, in her black & white postulant outfit, in a tight spot center stage.

Since all we had waaaay back then was a black & white TV, & since we were seated sooooo far away, I asked my parents, “Is this a cartoon?”Happily, the spot grew larger and the color staging appeared, and I was thrilled to see (finally!), instead of just imagining, the show played out before me in all its syrupy goodness.

And then, 1965 came, with the divine, sublime, enshrined Julie Andrews, who took the part of Maria and made it her own forever. The movie ran at the Inwood Theatre for two years straight, and every weekend, as long as I had completed my homework and chores, I was allowed to ride my bike up to the Inwood and watch at least one showing. My tenth birthday party was just one more excuse to go see it again, this time with all my friends.

So before I reached the age of 11, I had seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC well over one hundred times. It would be impossible to see any stage production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC and not compare it to the iconic movie, but I, the ultimate SOM fan, am here to tell you that this production measures up supremely well and does not disappoint.

Wanting to get a younger person’s view on the show, I took a 6 year old friend as my guest. Luckily, her parents also love the movie, so the story wasn’t new to her, but I was eager to get her take on the live performance, since she,unlike me, has only seen the movie, and not every local production that has ever appeared in the Metroplex since 1965.

Ironically, the last time I had been to Casa Mañana was when I was in junior high school, and it was to see – you guessed it – THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I felt a lot of nostalgia approaching the familiar silver dome, and was very impressed by what I found inside. Back in the day, Casa was a huge theatre-in-the round, but in 2004 it was completely renovated, and now features a proscenium thrust stage,with an actual backstage for entrances and exits. That disappointed me at first,because I remembered how much fun it used to be when the actors came and went byway of the aisles throughout the audience.

I’m happy to report that Casa has not abandoned that old tradition, and that it still works incredibly well. In the opening scene, just the Mother Abbess was onstage, singing the Dixit Dominus in Latin, while most of the nuns were lined up the aisles singing along. These holy sisters were indeed divine – on pitch, acapella, and perfectly in sync with beautiful round tones. A wonderfully auspicious start to a very enjoyable afternoon.

Throughout the show, actors continued to come and go via the aisles, always but always staying in character the whole time. Kudos to Director Alan Coats and the entire cast for this: it would have been very easy for the actors just to walk down the aisles in a leisurely manner, not being “on”, not acting out their parts, until they climbed the steps to get under the lights on stage, but not one of them took the easy way out. If they were under the dome, they were their characters.

Lighting Designer John Bartenstein and Scenic Designer Mark Halpin have done a fantastic job. For the first time in my boundless experience with this show, the familiar giant center stage staircase of the von Trapp mansion entryway, which splits into two high balconies, was no where to be found. All the scenes but one took place in front of the beautiful background of the Alps, with subtle set pieces of furniture, architecture, and landscaping creating the Nonnberg Abbey,Maria’s room, and the terrace of the von Trapp villa. Only in the next to last scene, when the family is onstage at the Salzburg Festival, does the suddenly enclosed space, decorated with huge Nazi banners, give the audience the claustrophobic feeling of impending doom promised by the Third Reich.

Tammy Spencer’s costumes were perfection, as was Coats’ choreography.I especially loved how he had the party guests marking the Laendler in place upstage while Maria and the Captain danced it expansively downstage.

The two second leads, Dennis Yslas as Max and Diana Sheehan as Elsa, were absolutely charming and always good comic relief. I’ve heard raves about Dennis Yslas in the past, but have never seen him perform until now. And now I understand what all the raves are about.

Sheehan also accomplished something that even one of my dearest friends, who played Elsa in the Lewisville production a few years ago, wasn’t able to do: she made me not hate….okay, she actually made me LIKE…the character of Elsa. She brought a warmth and comic layer to it that truly made me feel sorry for her when she called off her engagement to the Captain.

Sorry, should I have put a spoiler warning there? Surely not; how can anyone not know by now that Maria and the Captain end up together? And there lies the obstacle that the Casa crew had looming before them: how to put on this beloved musical in a way that was fresh enough to gain it new fans, not just bring in the old groupies like me.

They’ve surmounted this obstacle and succeeded. More than a third of the audience was children, and not all of them were girls, either. I sat in front of two tween boys who were having the time of their lives. My young guest knew every song already (from the movie), and sang along quietly on them, as I heard other children nearby doing.

Speaking of children singing: Bravi to the seven children onstage! What a beautiful blended sound, from Marty McElree as Liesl to Cosette Cook (who turned five years old opening day!) as Gretl.

Caitlin Hale Daniels, as Louisa, has a set of pipes that rings beautifully from the dome on her solo lines, but still blends perfectly in the ensembles.

And as Friedrich, Cooper Rodgers has a soprano that could have made him a star of the Vienna Boys’ Choir.

The surname Rodgers makes me ponder the composer of this wonderful musical –Richard Rodgers. Together, he and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the music and lyrics, respectively, for this and several other famous musicals

But Hammerstein had died by the time the movie came out & Hollywood wanted some new songs for the film. As a result, Rodgers approved cutting three songs from the original Broadway production (“How Can Love Survive?”, “An Ordinary Couple”, and “No Way to Stop It”), and adding two new ones (“I Have Confidence” and “Something Good”).

When I first saw the movie, I missed the old songs, all though I did recognize “How Can Love Survive” being played instrumentally in the ballroom scene, and I was only lukewarm about the addition of “I Have Confidence”.

But “Something Good” – ugh. More like Something Awful. Great tune – that’s what Rodgers was famous for – but abysmal lyrics, because Rodgers wrote them instead of Hammerstein. Rodgers should have asked some other famous lyricist to help him out, because there were still plenty of them around then – Ira Gershwin, Alan Jay Lerner, the Sherman Brothers – heck, I was only 9 years old and I could’ve come up with something better than “nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could”! Alas, ever since the movie premiered, stage productions have cut the same three original songs and added the two new ones from the movie.

Try, then, to imagine my excitement when I looked at the program for this performance and saw that the three original songs from the Broadway opening were going to be in this show, and that the two new ones from the film were not!Except….that’s not what happened.

Evidently whoever put the program together got the list of songs from Wikipedia’s list from the original show, instead of checking with the music director to see which songs were actually going to be performed.

“How Can Love Survive” was re-added to this show, and that was a welcome addition, especially since it gave a duet to Yslas and Sheehan. Note to Casa’s proofreaders: next time, run the program by the music director before you put it to bed.

We all need to be thankful that there was a music director, Edward G. Robinson,and a real live excellent orchestra. Musical theatre needs live music, and if we all want to see more of good musical theatre, we need to support the houses that have live music. This orchestra was excellent, never overpowering the singers,and subtly slowing their tempi a couple of times when a lead singer fell a bit behind the beat. The orchestra even garnered applause from the exiting guests as they played us all out of the theatre.

Patty Goble as Mother Abbess brought a warm rich voice to her leading of the nuns in three very different numbers, and really nailed the big finish of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” at the end of Act I. Hers is not the hard to de-code contralto of the past that has traditionally played this part – instead she is intelligible and accessible, right up to her chill-inducing conclusion of this beautiful, inspiring ballad.

As Maria, Jacquelyn Piro Donovan had her work cut out for her. She’s miles better than Mary Martin ever was (which is a very good thing), and different from Julie Andrews (whom imitating would be an impossible thing). Her voice is more pop than I’ve usually heard in this role, but she conveys a genuine warmth and sincerity in her singing and dialogue, and to my surprise and delight, she also turned lines with which I’m very familiar into comic ones. Her voice was a perfect blend for that of Steve Blanchard, who played Captain von Trapp in an innovative way, as well – less cold and stuffy, more trying to hide his fragility with bluster.

My one complaint about this production would be something I have disliked about every live performance I have ever seen of this show: everyone is speaking with American accents, or maybe a little hint of a British or Austrian accent,until….zee evil Nazis ah-rrive. Und zen zeir accents are zo wery Cherman zat zey are praktiklee unintelligible.

This must be something in the stage directions, but it is ridiculous and always initiates unintentional laughter. The Nazis’ appearance in this happy house hold are supposed to imply the impending horror with which they were about to envelope the world, but instead they end up sounding like bad extras on a repeat of Hogan’s Heroes, and jolting the audience out of their previous suspension of disbelief until they (mercifully) exit the stage.

This show is a perfect family outing, worth the cost for the memories you will take with you. My only regret is that I won’t be able to go back again, with a whole bunch of children, to the closing night performance on September 19th,when the audience will be invited to sing along. You will regret it if you don’t take the opportunity to see this show, with as many family members, young and old, as you can, before its too-short run ends next weekend.

Reviewed by Carol Anne Gordon, Associate Theatre Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN


THE SOUND OF MUSIC Casa Mañana Through September 19, 2010

Special sing-along performance Sunday, September 19th at 7 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at 7:30 pm Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm Sunday nights at 7:00 pm

Tickets / Reservations / Box Office: (817) 332-2272

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“One of Our Favorite Things”

Saturday, Sep. 11, 2010 

Casa Mañana’s ‘Sound of Music’ is truly one of our favorite things 

By Mark Lowry 
Special to 

Sometimes it feels like any production of The Sound of Music could be performed by zombies. And still, the beloved songs about needles pulling thread and raindrops on roses would satisfy any audience. As long as a staging isn’t an all-out disaster, it’s typically a solid, entertaining show. 

So what a relief that Casa Mañana’s revival, which opened Saturday and is directed and choreographed by Alan Coats, isn’t a walking-dead stroll. It’s thoughtfully performed, beautifully sung and occasionally insightful. Who knew that these characters could surprise? 

On a stage of simple-but-luxurious-looking set pieces (by Mark Halpin), the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical rolls along at a swift but manageable pace. 

As Liesl, the eldest of the Von Trapp children, Mary McElree gives a heartfelt turn. The others (Cooper Rodgers as Friedrich, Caitlin Hale Daniels as Louisa, Bobby Rochelle as Kurt, Brooke Verbois as Brigitta, Lauren MaGee as Marta and Cosette Cook as Gretl) are kitten-whisker cute, and they all manage laudable harmony. That’s important. These kiddoes were famous singers, after all. 

Patty Goble, as the Mother Abbess, knocks it out the park on her big song, Climb Ev’ry Mountain; Tyce Green is a memorable Rolf; and Dennis Yslas gives Max some personality. 

In one of the show’s most overlooked roles, Fraulein Schraeder, Diana Sheehan makes her less of an ice queen than what’s usually seen in that role. 

When she quietly concedes that Maria has taken over her territory in Capt. Von Trapp’s life, it’s heartbreaking. 

But the audience is over that quickly, because Jacquelyn Piro Donovan has already won us over with her quirky, stubborn and charismatic Maria. Her rich vocals give a slightly different sound to this music, but it’s striking. 

As the captain, Steve Blanchard sings like a dream and charms, even through his character’s sergeantlike demeanor. Like Frau Schraeder, that’s a role too often played at a distance. 

Perhaps it’s because it happens in a more intimate space (Casa Mañana Theatre, not Bass Hall), but under Coats’ direction, it’s as if the sun has melted all signs of ice on this oft-climbed mountain of a musical.

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Column Review: OKLAHOMA!

Here is the review published today by John Garcia’s The Column.  Congratulations to my amazing cast.  This is a testament of your outstanding work.  Thanks for an incredible show.  ~Brad   

Theater review: Oklahoma! at Artisan Center Theater in Hurst

by Lyle Huchton of John Garcia’s The Column  

The energy and spirit of this cast of ACT’s Oklahoma! produced an end result that was miraculous. 

Editor’s note: The press photos provided have Amanda Gupton and Zeke Branim as Laurey and Curly, respectively. However, in the reviewed performance, Brad Stephens played Curly.


In the early spring of 1943 opened a new musical that would make its mark on theater history. Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, this American “Folk Opera” pushed realism and reality to the forefront. It refused using the popular stage tactics of sight gags and scantily clad dancers. It instead focused on ballet by employing one of the leading choreographers of the time, Agnes De Mille. Producers held their breath on opening night almost positive that they had a flop on their hands. But the inspired music by Richard Rodgers and the fresh words of Oscar Hammerstein II won over audiences and critics alike. Lucky for us here in the metroplex we have Artisan Center Theater in Hurst to take aim at the target and mostly hit the mark with their version of Oklahoma! (playing through June 19). 

Director Dennis Canright did exactly what he should have with this script. He let it speak for itself. And judging from the response it got from an almost-packed house on Saturday night, he did the right thing. I am convinced this Oklahoma would ring a pure note if compared to that first premiere over 60 years ago. 

Aunt Eller (Linda Much) is on the porch of her homestead churning butter when we overhear someone singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” It is no other than Curly McLain (Brad Stephens) happening by to invite Laurey (Amanda Gupton) to be his date to the picnic box gathering. I have to be honest that I am no fan of a music track for a musical. I understand the practicality of one, especially this form of “canned music” in a theater as small as Artisan’s. There is no place to put an orchestra. But a music track always presents a problem with timing and that is exactly what happened here.   

In that first number and the one to follow, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” I was tapping my foot in hopes that it would somehow help increase the tempo. Not only was it too slow but the track was so loud that it overpowered the singer. Not a very good way to start. 

However … all that was about to change. Bursting onto the stage like a pack of wild broncos is Will Parker (Drew Davis) and the rest of the male dance ensemble which included Nathan Smith, Tevin Cates, and Edward Ciaran Masen. 

Whoopin’ and hollarin’ and doing more hitch-kicks than The Kilgore Rangerettes, these boys with the help of Eddie Floresca’s lively choreography, pumped up the life back into this production with an energetic performance in the number, “Kansas City.”   

Drew Davis is excellent here in his role as Will. With controlled abandonment, he throws himself into the part and brings to light what I feel is Will’s message: Finding out the difference between a man’s worth and his value. 

Delivering one of the musicals most well known songs is Lacy Lambert as Ado Annie Carnes with “I Can’t Say No.” Lamenting over her inability to deny a man anything he asks for. She can’t seem to make up her mind over Will or her present suitor the peddler Ali Hakim (Jason Leyva). Miss Lambert brings such an innocence to Ado Annie you can’t help but fall in love with her.   

Mr. Leyva’s Ali Hakim is an example of the supporting cast’s commitment and talent. His characterization is completely fleshed out and believable. 

Now it is the girls’ dance and voice ensemble to take their turn at bat. Lead here by Miss Gupton (Laurey) the ladies hit a home run with a lovely rendition of “Many a New Day.”   

Curly and Laurey now decide that maybe they should go to the social together but need to be discreet as to not cause others to talk. They express their sentiments clearly in “People Will Say We’re in Love.” This upbeat and flirtatious song ended on a sad note that left me perplexed. 

Curly has to go inform Jud Fry (David Plybon) that he has lost his date to the gathering. Mr. Plybon plays against type and delivers a nicely understated, misunderstood Jud. Plybon and Stephens produce some of the best vocals of the evening with “Poor Jud” and “Lonely Room.”   

Closing out the end of the first act is a dance sequence famously known as “The Dream Ballet,” in which Laurie falls sleep and dreams of what her future would be like if she married Curly. 

Most productions use a dancer or “Dream Laurey” to perform this ballet. Miss Gupton was cast to dance this role. This decision helped clear up what is actually going on in this number. However I felt that this was one of the few places in this production that either needs to be tightened up or shaved down. There was no real focus and it played way too long.   

Act two starts off with another spirited song and dance number “The Farmer and the Cowmen” that also kicks off the auction of the food boxes for the picnic. The ensemble pulls out all the stops and shows once again that they are the driving force behind this production. Not before mentioned, there are other outstanding performances within this cast that include Linda Much as Aunt Eller, Gale McCray as Andrew Carnes, Meredith Stowe as Gertie Cummings, and Oliva Lamke for her dancing in “The Dream Ballet.” 

And of course, to top off the this well known R&H classic was the rousing title song “Oklahoma!” which was sung with full gusto by the full company.   

When I first sat down and got a good look at the set I was astounded. I was surrounded by a large expanse of blue sky with gold and green pastures all around me. It was like as if some one plopped me down in the middle of a field, next to a farmhouse, by a water tower. Scenic designers Dennis Canright and Jason Leyva smartly placed the larger pieces of the set in the corners. This allowed the center of the playing area to remain open for the action and the dancing. The design was enhanced by the beautiful scenic painting of Lilly Strapp and Michelle McElree. 

The daunting task of having to costume not only one cast but two (Artisan tends to double cast their productions) fell upon costume designer Nita Cadenhead. Just to let some of you know who do not pay attention to costumes as I do exactly what she was facing.   

*Editor’s full disclosure: Mr. Huchton is an award-winning costume designer who has designed for many companies, such as for the Dallas Opera and the Dallas Children’s Theater. For television he has earned two Emmy Award nominations for costume design for the TV series Barney

Take a cast of 30 times two — that would make 60 costumes to create. Then add two other changes for Laurey (including a bustle wedding dress) another change for Curly and Aunt Eller and about six or more for the ballet number and the total would be around 70 plus any added accessories. That’s quite a lot, huh?   

I am getting on my soap box a bit here because I can not help as to wonder why the costumes in this musical production looked like an afterthought in compassion to the other design elements (i.e. scenic, lighting, sound, etc.). Just something to think about… 

The second cast of ACT’s Oklahoma! may produce an altogether different experience. But if the same energy and spirit are brought to the table as the cast I observed Saturday night, then the end result will be as miraculous as the one I watched. 

Brad Stephens performs Tuesday, Thrusday and Saturday evenings.

I will be performing every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening of the run through June 26, 2010.  Performances are subject to change so keep an eye on my event calendar for my up-to-the-minute schedule.  However, both casts are wonderful so come out and see the show when you can!  In fact, why not see it twice? 

Showtimes are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM with Saturday matinees at 3:00 PM (see calendar at right).  Click here for a map to the theater as Mapquest and Google Maps may mislead you.  Tickets are available at the box-office or by calling (817) 284-1200.  You may also buy tickets online at the Artisan Center Theater website –  Coupons for discounts on tickets can be acquired by clicking the Feature Actor Card below.  Print them out and distribute them to your friends!

Get discounts on tickets!

Click here, print these out and give them to your friends for ticket discounts!

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Column Review: BRIGADOON

Theater review: Brigadoon at Artisan Theater Center in Hurst 

by Clyde Berry of John Garcia’s The Column 
Brigadoon may not be the best show in the world, but Artisan’s production is solid. 

Brigadoon is one of those classic musicals from the “Golden Age”. Made even more famous by a movie version a few years after the success of the Broadway run, there’s a few standards that are still used in auditions.

For a Gen Xer, the show may seem a bit dated and stale, and for good reason. The story is pretty cookie cutter: there’s the lead guy and his sidekick, they meet two girls, complication, resolution. Was there any doubt how it would end? Still, as someone who loves a good musical, cheese or no, the getting there is the fun part. Give me some good story telling, punctuated with some lovely singing, a creative dance break, and I’ll easily overlook a stale book and go along for the ride. For folks that don’t like musicals, the gratuitous dance breaks, and the pretty songs that don’t advance the plot; it could drive you nuts.

I’m not a huge fan of Brigadoon in particular, the show has lots of challenges, especially for a space like Artisan that stages in the round. There are numerous locations, making it a set intense show in a place where you can’t have walls. There’s lots of dance, which requires space. Fortunately, these potential problems are solved by an inventive design by Jason Leyva and John Wilkerson. The basic set is a group of rocks that are shifted between scenes, with a few corner spaces that get redressed during the show. In addition, the entire wall space behind the audience is covered in beautiful murals by Michelle McElree and Lilly Strapp. This solves what could be a technical nightmare as far as far as sightlines and shift time, and the shifts go smoothly, without interrupting the flow of the show.

In addition, Leyva’s lighting design also dresses the space nicely, providing enough fantasy and reality where needed, in the appropriate places.

Jason Walker’s sound design does well, keeping voices clear and louder than the tracked music used during the production. Several mics suspended from the grid pick up anyone without a body mike effectively. I was curious though why a pre-recorded bit of chorus music was used at then end of the show.

Nita Cadenhead’s costumes provide a clear picture of the appropriate attire for the village, complete with family plaids. The “modern” clothes are also nice and give us some colors otherwise not seen. There do seem to be though some various socks masquerading as period amongst the Brigadoon gentleman.

As far as the performances, Director John Wilkerson has assembled a cast of leads that all deliver a solid level of consistent performance. His pacing of the show is good, and it never drags. The blocking is effective, especially keeping the chorus (and everyone else) out of sightlines during large group scenes. There are times in the large scenes where everyone stops what they are doing to eavesdrop on conversations. But in some places within the show there could have been more ensemble/crowd ad-libs to fill the silence, or enthusiastic cheering, like during a dance, where the energy from the ensemble was needed.

Playing the Americans that stumble into the mythical town of Brigadoon that appears only once every 100 years are Timm Zitz and Brad Stephens, as Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, respectively. Stereotypical American tourists, I thought they were too much like each other in character, until the show progressed and I saw how Zitz creates a nice arc for his romantic Tommy, while Jeff remains the cynic. The guys are sharp, and as unbelievable as the plot is, manage to bring a certain grounded reality to the show.

The bonnie lasses that are paired off with the guys, for sincere love, or comedy are Collen Hall as Fiona MacLaren, and Jenny Tucker as Meg Brockie. Both ladies sing well. Hall gets the leading lady ballads, which she delivers nicely in “Waitin’ For My Dearie” while Meg has the comedic and spirited “My Mother’s Weddin’ Day” that brings a lot of energy to Act II.

Charlie Dalrymple is brought to life by Brian Sears, who nails the Irish Ballad that starts the best sequence of Act I (scene five). His voice navigates the upper notes of the song comfortably, and made folks sit up in “Come to Me, Bend to Me”.

This is followed up by the first of several poetic dance sequences by Eddie Floresca. Bonnie Jean’s dance is executed by Victoria Minton with beauty, subtlety, and honest reactions.

We then move into the conditional ballad “Almost Like Being in Love” sung by Fiona (Hall) and Tommy (Zitz), which continues the magic that has just been created.

Zach Wooster has the thankless role of Harry, the “villain” of the piece, who provides the only conflict or tension in the plot. He broods appropriately, and has a nice dance solo at the start of the Sword Dance.

Kristin DiFrancesco also delivers a delightful mourners dance in Act II.

Evan Faris, as Mr. Lundie provides a stable character even though he only has two brief scenes.

Brigadoon may not be the best show in the world, but Artisan’s production is solid. If you’re looking to see a classic that likely won’t be done again anytime soon, there are only a few weeks left to catch it. This multiple COLUMN award winning theater runs this show through April 10.

Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Through April 10, 2010

Artisan Center Theater

Theater is located in the old historic Belaire Plaza at 420 East Pipeline Road, Husrt, TX 76053.  The daytime box office is located at same address.

Performances are at 7:30pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays.  Reserved seating tickets are $16.00 for adults, $14.00 for students and seniors, and $9.00 for children 12 and under. Monday through Thursday tixs are $12.00.  Box office number: 817-284-1200. More info:

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Review: “A Kind of Merry War”

Today, Theater Jones posted their review of Much Ado About Nothing performing in the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center through February 21st.  Without any further ado, here is the review:

A Kind of Merry War

The Bard’s screwball comedy delivers a lot of something at Stolen Shakespeare Guild.

by M. Lance Lusk.  Published Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s crowd-pleaser about love and frivolity, is one of the most performed plays in the canon. Its bite-sized length and lively subject matter go down as sweetly and insubstantially as a chocolate bonbon. It is probably no coincidence that Stolen Shakespeare Guild‘s production opened on Valentine’s weekend.

The main plot follows the romance of the young lovers, Claudio (Michael Kreitzinger) and Hero (Samantha Chancellor). The victorious soldier Claudio is celebrating with his comrades in Sicily and his thoughts soon turn to wooing the governor’s daughter Hero. The more entertaining and interesting subplot involves the “skirmish of wit” between Benedick (Brad Stephens) and Beatrice (Arlette Morgan). Benedick, the avowed bachelor, and Beatrice, the quick-witted and sharp-tongued governor’s niece, relish the good-natured bickering in which they constantly engage. Wackiness ensues when their friends conspire to make them believe they secretly love one another. Further action follows the machinations of an evil, bastard brother who tries to thwart the love between Claudio and Hero, plus some bumbling comedic riffs from the local constable and his men.

A delicate balance is required for this play to become more than just an airy, romantic farce. The darker edges of the storyline involving the malicious plotting and accusations of infidelity and jealousy have to be strongly pushed and fleshed out to make the redemptive conclusion of the play satisfying. Even Shakespeare felt the need to insert one of his requisite fake deaths to salt the overly sweet nature of the story. Unfortunately, most productions settle for making the play a pageant of harmless, amorous bantering wrapped up in the pretty bow of a modern rom-com’s sensibilities, all kiss and no bite.

Directors Jason and Lauren Morgan’s traditional, down-the-middle interpretation creates a lively romp that has many more hits than misses, the sluggish opening section and some weak characterizations being the only major obstacles.

Shakespeare could have named the play Beatrice and Benedick, because the many-splendored facets of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice drive the play, essentially making or breaking its success. It is critical that their repartee be quick, clever and with a strong undercurrent of feeling, whether they are at odds, falling in love or protesting too much their mutual adoration. Actor Brad Stephens’ Benedick proves himself more than capable of playing the clever cad with understanding and energy. Shakespeare gives Benedick some of his best zingers, and Stephens delivers them all with twinkling aplomb.

The role of Beatrice is a much more difficult endeavor. She has to give as good as she gets back to Benedick, guard her fragile heart, convincingly fall in love with her “enemy” and provide the moral outrage at her cousin and her own gender done wrong. It is a precarious juggling act, and, alas, one that Arlette Morgan struggles with a bit. Morgan seems to put too much credence in Beatrice’s pronouncement that she speaks “all mirth and no matter.” The audience sees only Beatrice’s bitter, sarcastic façade, rarely her humanity, and, frankly, would have a difficult time believing that she could love Benedick and convince him to love her in return. The lack of sincerity in this performance even results in the audience’s responding with inappropriate laughter to Beatrice’s heart-wrenching request of Benedick to kill her cousin’s accuser.

The affably clueless constable Dogberry is Shakespeare’s comic relief par excellence in this play, a can’t-miss, gut-busting role for most audiences to enjoy. Robert Krecklow strangely plays him a bit too refined and mostly sedate in the beginning, but he saves his best chops for his last scenes. Tarun Kapoor’s Don John is aptly menacing and haughty. Kreitzinger as Claudio portrays the wide-eyed lover with a range of impressive emotion and comedic instinct. A special kudos for Allen Walker’s portrayal as the doting father governor, Leonato. Walker infuses this supporting role with sincere geniality and deep pathos.

The look of the production and Lauren Morgan’s costumes evoke a pleasant, sun-kissed Renaissance Italy with stucco villas, shuttered windows and a bucolic farm cart. The uncluttered simplicity of the set and its design work quite well here, never detracting from the action or language of the play. Christine Hand Jones’ live, original music and subsequent musical performance in the role of Balthasar is poignant, appropriate and worthy of note.

The directors’ interpretation is a simple and conventional one, which is refreshing and appreciated at a time when too many directors constantly try to jazz up Shakespeare with offbeat settings, outlandish costumes and contemporary music. The beginning of the play does have some issues with slow timing, where a fury of words is required to set the pace. A rapid-fire pace is vital in screwball comedy, especially one involving a war between the sexes. The proper stride is found when the matchmaking between Beatrice and Benedick commences, and continues nicely for the remainder of the show.

Much Ado About Nothing represents Shakespeare’s last purely “witty” play, before he moved on to much darker, colder fare such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and the like. Stolen Shakespeare Guild allows the audience to experience the wit and wonder of this play, while transporting them to the sunnier climes of Sicily for a few hours.

Tickets on sale now through Theatre Mania (866-811-4111), by going to the Stolen Shakespeare Guild website or at the Box Office starting one hour before any performance.

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Review: “Much Ado About Something Great”

Stolen Shakespeare Guild is Much Ado about something great

by Punch Shaw, Special to the Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH — In our efforts to show Shakespeare’s works the respect they deserve, we may sometimes be guilty of the overstating the case.

We tend to isolate his plays in their own festivals, update them with garishly elaborate productions and place them on a pedestal so they might look down their noses at lesser works.

So thank goodness for the Stolen Shakespeare Guild and its presentations of the Bard’s works that remind us as that these are just great, entertaining plays that stand on their own without the aid of an adoring context, star actors or grandiose production values.

All it takes to do Shakespeare well is a capable director and cast who love and understand the texts, as is the case with the company’s current production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Sanders Theatre in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

This romantic comedy, which makes merry with parallel plot lines about love’s labors getting twisted by confusion, is well-played by a sprawling cast whose members all seem to know what is really going on (not something that can always be taken for granted with Shakespeare). The direction, credited to Jason Morgan with Lauren Morgan, deserves kudos for maintaining a brisk pace, making good use of the minimal set and props, and keeping the many players singing in the same key.

The standout performance in this production is found in a surprising place. Allen Walker, as Leonato (the father of Hero, one of the female love interests) makes a minor role major by being casual and offhanded when appropriate, but also finding fire and thunder when it is needed.

Walker is a key part of a moment in the second act, where this production peaks. Until this point, all has been sweetness and light. But when Hero (Samantha Chancellor) is falsely accused of betraying her fiance, things take a darker turn. And Walker, Chancellor and J King (the very perceptive Friar Francis) join forces to make the scene absolutely riveting.

You will walk out of the theatre in the glow of having just spent a couple of hours with Shakespeare’s wonderful poetry and the broad range of human emotions he lays bare in those lines. And, when it comes to theater, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Much Ado About Nothing performs in the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center through February 21st.  Tickets on sale now through Theatre Mania (866-811-4111), by going to the Stolen Shakespeare Guild website or at the Box Office starting one hour before any performance.

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By Lyle Huchton of John Garcia’s The Column

Farce: 1: A comedy that entertains the audience with unlikely situations, disguise, and mistaken identity. 2: A fast paced plot whose speed increases, usually ending in an elaborate chase scene. 3: Don’t Dress for Dinner, the current undertaking for ICT MainStage at The Dupree Theatre in the Irving Arts Center.

Like a shot being fired at the beginning of a race, that is how ICT’s production starts off with this delicious little farce. From reading the program, I concluded that there would certainly be some sort of mistaken identity being that there was a character named Suzette and one named Suzanne. The set also offered me some clues as to the action of what was to transpire, seeing that there were 4 doors leading to different parts of the farmhouse. (Doors are another main element in a farce. I kept thinking of another farce, the comedy Noises Off: “All these doors!” “Oh only a handful really.”

We first meet Bernard (J. Alan Hanna) and his wife Jacqueline (Nikki Andoga). Bernard is trying to pack his wife off for the weekend so that he can spend time with his mistress Suzanne, (Ginger Goldman) a Parisian model and actress. As his alibi, Bernard has invited his friend Robert (Brad Stephens). Finally Bernard has hired a chef, Suzette (Angela Allen) to cook them dinner.

When Jacqueline discovers that Robert has been invited for the weekend, she changes her plans to stay at home. It turns out that she and Robert happen to be lovers. In order to cover himself, Bernard convinces Robert to tell Jacqueline that he and Suzanne are lovers, who he confuses with Suzette.

Director Jill Stephens shows a true understanding of this type of frenzy comedy. She keeps the actors moving like mice caught in a maze, with bits of physical activity that never cross over to slapstick. She has also assembled one of the best ensemble casts I have seen to date. There is no tug-of-war here with each fighting for the attention. Each actor handles the script with all its twists and turns, with ease at a brake-neck speed.

Leading the race is J. Alan Hanna as Bernard. Mr. Hanna’s physical actions are spot on. My only negative comment is that he at times rushes through his dialog and we lose some of what he is saying.

Nikki Andoga portrays Jacqueline his wife. She brings a calm, more thoughtful note to her character. Brad Stephens as Robert and Angela Allen as Suzette keep the festive pace rolling. Finally, exploding like a cherry bomb is Ginger Goldman as Suzanne.

Again, the ensemble work here is what most casts can only dream about.

The setting for this farce is to be a renovated farmhouse outside of Paris, France. This proved to be quite a challenge for set designer Erin Ball. The set was so out of proportion that it dwarfed the actors.

In addition to the lack of furniture, which would have allowed more obstacles for the actors to play around with, the painted wall paper was distracting and cartoonish. I felt so far removed from the action; I wanted to move my seat to the edge of the stage to be more involved. There is also a wide expanse between a chaise lounge and two well-placed chairs. The glaring white rug did not help at all to pull the room together. The set said more You Can’t Take It With You than French farmhouse. The only feeling I got from it was that the owners have very poor decorating sense.

The costume design by Binnie Tomaro was effective enough to show character, but it needed a little more pizzazz. The French are famous for their fashion. For example, when the men changed into robes and pajamas, they should have been as sexy as what the women were wearing. There is also a bit with a fur coat. I realize that if this coat were a Chanel knock-off, no one would understand the jokes. I only mention this because in my research the coat in question is referred to as a Chanel. (Although, I have seen Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, don a fur trimmed Chanel coat that would make your mouth water.) But this coat was too frumpy. As with all the costumes, I wanted them to be more fashion forward and sexy.

Having said that, it is the wonderful talents of the ensemble that make this a very worthy production to attend.

On a side note: In the lobby of the Dupree Theater there is a delightful exhibit of illustrations by children’s book authors Leo and Diane Dillion. Get there early so you can enjoy these beautiful works of art.

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Don’t Dress For Dinner: EDGE Review

by Douglas Dodasovich, EDGE Contributor

ICT MainStage opened it’s 2009-2010 season with the delectable farce Don’t Dress For Dinner featuring Kristin Chenoweth and Hugh Grant and that guy from The Sopranos. Or not. Confused? Welcome to a farce where no one is who they seem and everyone has something to hide. (We’ll get back to Kristen, Hugh and that guy from The Sopranos later.)

Don’t Dress For Dinner centers on pals Bernard and Robert. Bernard has arranged for his wife to be out of town for the weekend so he can have a romantic weekend with his mistress Suzanne with Robert serving as his alibi. However, when Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline, finds out that Robert is coming she cancels her plans because she and Robert are lovers. Robert reluctantly agrees with Bernard’s scheme to pretend that Suzanne is Robert’s girlfriend and waits at the cottage while Bernard and Jacqueline go shopping for the caterer that Bernard has hired. When the caterer Suzette arrives, Robert naturally assumes she is Bernard’s mistress, Suzanne. Suzette eventually agrees to go along with the plan and all four begin a quartet of performances each with their own motives. Stay with me. The real fun begins when Suzanne, Bernard’s real mistress, shows up and, despite being more comfortable with a cream de menthe than a Cream Brule, is forced to play the cook.

Don’t Dress For Dinner was written by Marc Camoletti (adapted by Robin Hawdon), a master of the modern French farce. This was Camoletti’s sequel to his signature piece, Boeing-Boeing, which opened in 1960 and played a staggering 19 years on the Paris stage. (It recently had a successful Tony-winning Broadway revival.) Dinner ran seven years in London’s West End and has long been a regional and community theatre staple. (A recent Chicago production is being slated for a Broadway run this Spring.) It contains the usual elements of farce: mistaken identities, improbable, twisting plots, broad physical humor, slamming of doors, sexual situations, double entendres and a lightening speed plot. In other words, Three’s Company and Frasier territory.

A light, frothy confection, ICT has a delicious hit due in no small part to a triumphant triumvirate of performances. Spicy, succulent Angela Allen (Suzette) plays over the course of the evening a girlfriend, a model, an actress, a prostitute, a niece, a wife and a cook. Allen has seemingly marinated in the role delivering the wordy dialogue and her shifts of characters with ease. Brad Stephens plays a befuddled Robert with zest. He’s a deft physical comedian reminiscent of the late John Ritter in his prime. And did I mention the more befuddled Robert becomes, the more Mr. Stephens looks like Hugh Grant? (Talent and eye-candy too.) Savory Ginger Goldman, who resembles either Chenoweth (to me) or Kyra Sedgwick (to my husband is a delight outshining everyone whenever she’s on stage. Every nuance, facial reaction and phrase is top-notch. Scott Nixon, looking like he stepped out of The Sopranos makes an effective memorable appearance late in the show. ICT mainstay Jill Stephens directs with confidence and keeps the action moving at a tight pace. A few subtle updates (wireless phones, references to Euros) work seamlessly.

If your idea of theater is a hearty seven-course meal, pass on this. However, if you’re in the mood for a decadent dessert with unexpected bursts of flavor, put Don’t Dress for Dinner on your grocery list.

Don’t Dress For Dinner runs through November 21, 2009 at the Dupree Theatre, Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving, Texas. For more information visit the theater’s website.

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